Performance


The Show must go on.

15 September 2020

Performance


The Show must go on.

15 September 2020

For the first time in 68 years, the Frankfurt Motor Show has been cancelled with no plans to reinvigorate it in 2021. As the world’s largest motor show, it has been the launch pad for many significant Mercedes-Benz vehicles over the years.

Many motoring journalists can attest to the sheer scale of the International Automobile Exhibition Frankfurt and the daunting task of covering the multitude new model launches, press conferences and concept car reveals shoe-horned into the schedule of what is the world’s largest motor show.

Staged over multiple days and housed in no less than 12 separate buildings, Frankfurt is the motor show equivalent of the Hawaii Ironman, requiring stamina, endurance and a carefully crafted strategy to pick the highlights, and avoid missing a major media moment.

Tokyo may be quirkier, Detroit more bombastic, and Geneva more arty, but on the global motor show circuit Frankfurt has long been the world’s biggest and most important motor show, the singular event that clearly charts the future direction of the motor industry.

But as with so many other institutions and events to have been impacted by the scourge of COVID-19, the Frankfurt Motor Show, or Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) to give it its German title, is no more.

Citing declining crowds, falling exhibitor numbers and the adverse impacts of aggressive environmental protests that have targeted the event, organisers chose to not renew the show’s contract at the end of 2019. Instead, the world’s largest motor show will move to a new home in Munich in 2021, beginning a fresh chapter in the story of the IAA, which traces its lineage back to Berlin in 1897.

While the halls of the Messe Frankfurt will no longer ring with the footsteps of the thousands of automotive exhibitors and journalists who descend there on alternate Septembers, the legacy of this immensely influential motor show will not soon be forgotten.

Let’s take a quick decade-by-decade stroll through some of the major Mercedes-Benz models to have been revealed at the International Automobile Exhibition Frankfurt.

1950s

A black car

The Mercedes-Benz W111 sedan which debuted at Frankfurt in 1959. Image: Daimler.

In 1959 the Mercedes-Benz W111 sedan debuted at Frankfurt, stepping out into the glittering lights with its distinctive vertical headlights and American-style tailfins. Nicknamed Heckflosse (German for “fintail”), the four-door W111 debuted a new direction in technology and styling for Mercedes-Benz, introducing the world to the idea of the safety body, with a rigid passenger cell and front and rear crumple zones.

1960s

A white car

The W108 made its debut in 1965 as an evolutionary update to the hugely successful W111. Image: Daimler.

Six years later, in 1965, the Mercedes-Benz W108 appeared at Frankfurt as an evolutionary update to the hugely successful W111. With its stacked headlights, curvy hoodline and large front grille, the W108 is regarded by many as the last model to feature what is often described as the definitive “Mercedes look”.

1970s

A silver car

The legendary W126 S-Class, the second generation of the brand’s world-renowned Sonderklasse or “special class” long wheelbase saloon, debuted at Frankfurt in 1979. Image: Daimler.

Frankfurt 1979 will be remembered for the reveal of the legendary W126 S-Class, the second generation of the brand’s world-renowned Sonderklasse or “special class” long wheelbase saloon. Lighter and more fuel efficient than its predecessor, the Bruno Sacco designed W126 went on to become the most successful S-Class ever, with almost 900,000 sedans and coupes built during a 12-year production run.

1980s

A silver car

The W201, better known as the 190E, first appeared in Frankfurt in 1982. Image: Daimler.

Despite being known as the decade of excess, the early ‘80s were marked by a period of economic recovery in Europe, and Mercedes-Benz responded in 1982 with its first compact model the W201, better known as the 190E. But it was the following year at Frankfurt that the brand’s engineers really lit the blue touch paper, whipping the covers off the high performance 190 E 2.3-16V. Designed as a homologation special for the German Touring Car Championship, the scorching Cosworth-engined performance variant went on to establish several world speed and endurance records. 

1990s

Three cars in green, silver and red

With its front-wheel drive layout and tall but short body, the revolutionary A-Class looked like no other Mercedes-Benz before it when it debuted in 1997. Image: Daimler.

By 1997 the world’s automotive tastes were shifting again and Mercedes-Benz cannily read the change in sentiment by downsizing and launching the W168 A-Class compact car. With its front-wheel drive layout and tall but short body, the revolutionary A-Class looked like no other Mercedes-Benz before it, but its compact dimensions, fuel efficiency and Tardis-like interior packaging efficiency soon made it the darling of urban commuters around the globe. 

2000s

A sports car

The 2000s saw the release of the V8-supercharged SLR McLaren. Image: Daimler.

Fast forward six years and Frankfurt show crowds were stunned by the reveal of a machine that could not have been more different to the diminutive A-Class, the stunning Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Featuring an epic hand-built 5.4-litre supercharged V8 that hit like Thor’s hammer the motorsport-inspired supercar was designed to showcase the performance capabilities of Mercedes-Benz and its Formula One partner, McLaren. With its active aerodynamics, extensive use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastics and staggering performance, the car was in many ways a harbinger of modern Mercedes-AMG models. 

2010s

A modern car

The defining car of the 2010s would have to be the Mercedes-AMG Project One concept car, revealed in Frankfurt in 2017. Image: Daimler.

While the second decade of the 21st century has been a busy one in terms of significant Mercedes-Benz reveals at Frankfurt, it’s hard to go past the stunning Mercedes-AMG Project One concept car, revealed there in 2017, as the defining car of this decade. With its Le Mans racer styling, plug-in hybrid drivetrain and Formula One inspired technology, this jaw dropping creation sets the template for supercars of the future, drawing a line in the sand for rival manufacturers to aspire to.

By Jonathan Weller